(Steve Helber/AP)

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said Wednesday on a conference call that while Thomas’s stock has dropped because of his struggles this season, Thomas would still be in the “first-round discussion” should he forgo his senior season and declare for the 2013 NFL draft because many of his fellow quarterbacks also are having down years.

“He has things that nobody else has,” Kiper said. “Which are things that you can’t coach, can’t teach. Which is the great size, physicality, arm strength and all that, mobility. He would be a guy a quarterback coach would have to work with and tweak some things, but as far as potential, he has the most.”

Thomas said Tuesday he will likely file paperwork with the NFL draft advisory board after the regular season ends “just to see” where he could be selected. But the Lynchburg native indicated two weeks ago his plan is to return to Virginia Tech for his final year of eligibility.

Like Virginia Tech’s coaches have all season, Kiper pointed out that Thomas’s 14 interceptions this year – tied for the second most among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks – aren’t completely his fault. He mentioned the departure of ACC player of the year David Wilson and a Hokies offensive line that has struggled without any starters from a year ago gone for the majority of this season.

Kiper also addressed ESPN colleague Todd McShay’s statement from last month in which he called Virginia Tech’s offense “outdated by 10 or 15 years,” and in the process laid out what he believes Thomas’s biggest weaknesses have been this season.

“It’s not that sophisticated of an attack, and there are certainly some things that Logan can do better,” Kiper said. “I don’t know that you can blame it all on the offense, but that certainly is something. We talk about the adjustments to new players, the offense at times isn’t what other people are dealing with in terms of this new-look offense, the trendy offenses you see in college football right now.

“But at the end of the day, you need to make plays and you need to make accurate throws and you need to make good decisions. And that’s something with Logan Thomas where he’s struggled. Again, you can’t blame it all on the quarterback, but as far as maintaining a top five, top 10 grade, he certainly hasn’t been able to do it. Do I think he can still be a first-round pick? Yes, I do. Because as I said before, he’s got some things that nobody else has. The only question with [USC quarterback Matt] Barkley is that he doesn’t have the great physical ability. Logan Thomas does.

Logan’s got a decision to make,” Kiper added. “If you feel like you can go back up to the top five, top 10, then he would be better served to go back to Virginia Tech. . . . If he wants to go back and try to improve his stock and get back into that number one pick overall category, which he has the physical ability to be at, then you go back to Virginia Tech. So it’ll be interesting to see what his final decision is.”

Kiper also had some high praise for Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum, who made the switch from safety this year and has emerged as the Hokies’ most consistent defensive back in recent weeks. Kiper said Exum has “done a pretty good job of jumping out at you and making plays,” and that the redshirt junior’s ability to play both cornerback and safety will be an asset at the next level.

Defensive end James Gayle, linebacker Bruce Taylor and wide receivers Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller were also singled out by Kiper as NFL prospects who could hear their name called next April. Kiper said Davis, who has taken a lot of criticism this week for that video of his missed blocks, could be a potential third-round draft choice because “with his size and the way he’ll work out, obviously there are things to like about the kid in terms of what he could be.”

“It’s a case where there are a lot of guys at Virginia Tech to evaluate,” Kiper added. “It’s just that their season has gotten away from them a little bit. Had the Florida State game, let it slip away late. That could have been a huge upset for them. They’ve got a couple games coming up here that they should be able to win to end this season on at least a fairly positive note.”